September 11

Proposal: The Expenditures Limit on Indie

I was talking with a few PR people of some repute a few months ago, and I remarked that the cost of getting any attention in the indie music scene was so cost prohibitive, that it effectively cut out even the upper-middle class from being represented in indie music.  The effect of this is that the power to make music and art that gets in the ears of listeners ends up in the hands of the haves versus have nots – people who tend to be less and less in touch with the lives of ordinary people.  And isn’t that a terrible thing?  Especially if we’re talking about “indie” music?  Especially when most millennials don’t have that kind of money .

In response to this line of thought, it was suggested to me that if an artist take their career seriously they would invest in it.  At which point, I retorted that many people don’t even have the money to invest – and don’t you know that banks aren’t willing to just hand out arts-investment loans to people?  And don’t you know it’s a fact many banks discriminate based on race and other factors when determining who to give loans out to?  And do we really want banks making decisions about who gets their music heard?

I looked at this entire situation – both the prohibitive cost, and the lack of understanding on the part of music execs – and it makes me wonder:  What function does the term “indie” have, if it de facto overwhelmingly benefits the well off?

My proposal is that the term “indie” should only be used for releases where the artist spent less than $10,000 for recording/mixing/mastering, and less than $10,000 for PR (including the cost of marketing materials).  You can do it on the honor system, I don’t care much for auditing people’s financials.

The amount is a bit arbitrary, but it’s instructive.  Being very rough with the numbers here, but a person who makes $80,000 is in the 80% percentile of the income bracket.  After taxes, they take home roughly $58,000.  Of course, they have to live and eat, and have transportation, and pay insurance – let’s be super conservative and say that miraculously costs only $18,000.  Even a person in the 80% percentile can sacrifice half of their remaining income (assuming they don’t have kids or any other dependents) and still be called “indie”.  Seems like a pretty low bar, right?  After all, this guy is in the 80% percentile.

Then again, the proposal would cut out most artists that we call indie.  I’ve heard PR firm quotes (that aren’t ripping you off) anywhere in the $1000-$5000 a month range (and I’m sure it goes higher).  High profile blogs that offer music video production services often charge $3000 for the making of a simple music video (and that was a figure I was given about four years ago).  I’m sure most of the indie artists that you hear about regularly spend far beyond $10,000 when you add all the marketing up.  Recording is also, apparently, hugely expensive, and I’ve seen people pour over ten thousand dollars in the making of a record.

This isn’t to say that there’s anything *wrong* with spending upwards of $20K on recording and releasing a record.  I think it’s great if someone has a project that requires it, and they spend the money to help fulfill their artistic vision.  I’m just saying that the term “indie” stops being a legitimate moniker for the music being made when it’s not in the reach of the vast majority of the American population.

Of course, the follow up question:  Suppose we were to adopt this perfectly reasonable expenditures limit on the term indie.  Are there any music outlets that even cover indie music?  And if so, is there something wrong with that?